I read this book for last month’s parenting book club. It’s a parenting guide for the gender-typical parent of gender-typical kids, who want to learn to be aware of, and to minimize, the impact of limiting stereotypes on their sons and daughters. Stereotypes that are limiting include boys being unemotional or un-nurturing, and girls being bad at math (among MANY others). My wife and is somewhat gender-atypical (i.e., she doesn’t adhere to many feminine-stereotypes), so a lot of the warnings in this book around boxing girls into a female-stereotype box weren’t issues for us – our kid gets lots of stereotype-myth-busting experiences in our family. However, the book is also just so chock full of information that even we got some useful stuff from it, and I enjoyed reading it.
In a nutshell, this book is about parenting with an awareness of gender stereotypes. The title suggests that it’s about raising kids without gender stereotypes, but the author acknowledges that this scenario isn’t often practical (this is why I say it’s a book for gender-typical parents and children, for whom breaking gender norms is optional). Using a lot of statistics, the author gives you some really solid, well defended, reasons why yours kids are better off without being forced into a set of gender expectations. You won’t feel judged for letting your daughter wear pink or for enrolling your son in sports over music, but you will be reminded (or enlightened) of the very reasonable reasons for also enrolling your daughter in sports and letting your son have a doll.
The statistics are presented in an easy to comprehend way, but there’s also an entire chapter for the more technically inclined reader which describes effect sizes and experimental method. This chapter allows readers with and without a background in research and statistics to understand why the research can be trusted over the myths and misconceptions.
One criticism I have for the book is that the author uses the term gender where sex would be more appropriate. Gender is a social construct that develops as children gain a sense of identity, but Brown refers to gender as something you know about your newborn. I think this label was just used to assuage the masses – many people seem more comfortable using the term gender, rather than sex, for their little ones. There also isn’t much discussion about gender non-conforming or non-binary kids, but these kids do get an honourary mention in several chapters.
I’ll leave you with one big take-home message that I personally got from reading this book. As a society and as parents, we place too much importance on gender as a category. Kids (and adults) are already aware that males and females are different from one another, and there’s no need to highlight that as parents. Although I’m extremely conscious of gender stereotypes and of problems with dividing people into us-vs-them groups, the book reminded me that I point out my daughter’s gender on a regular basis when I say things like “you’re such a strong girl!” Yeah, I’m saying something feminist, challenging gender stereotypes that girls aren’t strong, but I’m highlighting her gender. Since reading, I’ve been calling her a kid rather than a girl. She will know her gender without me repeating it to her in every other address. When I read her books that include pictures of children, I’ve also stopped describing them as girls or boys, and instead say, “see the kid there playing with the ball?” It’s perhaps a subtle gesture, but by removing some of the importance on sex differences, we can open doors to our children to create, or at least see, a world less focused on the differences between men and women. We’ll make the world a better place by raising young people who interact like one group rather than divide themselves into unnecessary categories that compete and clash and foster such evils as toxic masculinity and violence toward women and non-binary folks.